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Omnibus environment bill gets committee review before expected House vote

House Photography file photo

Passed 49-14 by the Senate Tuesday, the omnibus environment and natural resources policy and finance bill is scheduled to receive a House vote Friday.

"This is the product of weeks of tough negotiations. I think it is the best we could do," Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) told the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee during a Wednesday overview. “There are a number of items in here that provide funding for a number of our priorities of this committee. There is money for chronic wasting disease, aquatic invasive species, emerald ash borer and PFAs.”

He sponsors SSHF5/SSSF20* with Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria).

“We take pride in caring for our land, and this budget ensures that folks will have access to an environment that is clean, accessible, and preserved for generations to come,” Ingebrigtsen said in a Tuesday statement. “Minnesotans should also be able to enjoy the outdoors, and our budget supports getting people out on our lakes, boosting our great tourism industry, and investing in our parks and trails that so many residents have used as an escape over the years.” 

Funding

The bill checks in at $1.66 billion, of which $367.08 million would be General Fund spending, $35.09 million over base.

Among the General Fund increases:

  • $25.77 million for the Department of Natural Resources, including a $3.98 million operating adjustment, $2.5 million for accelerated tree planting to capture carbon and $2 million in state park funding increase;
  • $5.04 million for the Board of Water and Soil Resources, including $2 million for water quality and storage practices aimed at mitigating climate change impacts and $1.4 million for septic replacement grants;
  • $3.23 million for the Pollution Control Agency, including just under $2 million in local government water infrastructure grants; and
  • $1.27 million to Explore Minnesota Tourism, of which $1 million would be for community event grants.

[MOREView the spreadsheet]

The bill would provide a $70.88 million appropriation in fiscal year 2022 and nearly $61.39 million in fiscal year 2021 from the environment and natural resources trust fund, a constitutionally dedicated fund funded by state lottery proceeds. The dollars would be for 165 projects across the state aimed at protection, conservation, preservation and enhancement.

The bill would not increase the cost of park permits, hunting or fishing fees or registration fees on boats, kayaks, canoes or paddleboards.

Salary increases and supplemental payments to conservation officers are included.

Chronic wasting disease

Under the bill, the DNR and Board of Animal Health would “possess concurrent authority to regulate farmed white-tailed deer,” under certain sections of law regarding farmed Cervidae, and the DNR “may inspect white-tailed deer.”

“This language provides explicit authority that we can be present and work on these investigations and enforcements,” said DNR Assistant Commissioner Bob Meier. “Previously, the language said we may be at the request of the board, and the way that was interpreted was if a producer did not want the DNR on the property, the board would not allow us to.”

Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls) said the Board of Animal Health’s response to chronic wasting disease has been an “abysmal failure.”

“A cooperative effort to work on a very serious issue, CWD, working with the strength of the DNR and the strength of the Board of Animal Health could be a great option,” said Rep. Josh Heintzeman (R-Nisswa).

Farmed deer have been a prominent source of chronic wasting disease, which is always fatal and can survive for years in the environment. Advocates say an extra layer of fencing could stop the spread, and the bill would require deer and elk farms to have two layers of perimeter fencing, a move that could limit escapes but has been opposed by industry groups.

Additionally, the agreement would prohibit importation of all Cervidae carcasses, not just hunter-harvested ones.

“We are only in the middle of this crisis, this isn’t the end of dealing with this disease,” said Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville). “I’m glad we were able to make some steps this year, but disappointed we couldn’t go further and faster to try and slow this down.”

Climate change concerns

Rep. Patty Acomb (DFL-Minnetonka) expressed concern about the lack of provisions in the bill specifically addressing climate change.

"The Republican Senate refused to acknowledge the words ‘climate change’ and demanded that it be removed from all of the appropriations," Hansen said. “… It is 2021 and we still have disagreement on language, an inability or ideology to accept that climate change is occurring.”

DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said even without “climate change” in the bill, steps would continue being taken to address the issue. “When you look at our strategic priorities for this administration, climate is very much on that list, it is very prominent in the work we are doing. … What our approach is recognizing is that managing our lands and waters in the state of Minnesota requires us thinking about climate change and making sure our management of those resources is appropriate.”

No clean car delay

A key part of the governor’s climate agenda is implementing stronger clean car standards.

Senate Republicans threatened to withhold the bill if the governor’s call for California air and emissions standards was not dropped. Ultimately, a 2024 implementation date was reached.

“We still firmly believe this is the wrong way to go about policy,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-East Gull Lake) said in a statement. “Electric cars are coming, but we don’t need to force auto dealers and consumers to purchase them. These are costly standards forced through without legislative oversight and voters will have an opportunity to cast judgment next year.” 

More policy

The agreement would also:

  • prohibit, effective Jan. 1, 2024, the manufacture and sale of a food package containing a group of "forever" chemicals called perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS;
  • require the DNR to annually establish daily and possession limits for gar;
  • provide free state park permits for members of the 11 federally recognized tribes in the state;
  • allow the DNR to develop reasonable policies for special-use permits to use state parks, trails, recreation areas, waysides and water access sites;
  • require the DNR to prescribe conditions and allows the issuance of permits to breed, propagate and sell snakes, lizards and salamanders;
  • prohibit a person in the possession of night vision or thermal imaging equipment convicted of certain violations from obtaining a hunting license or hunting wild animals for five years;
  • prohibit a person from shooting a firearm or arrow from a motor vehicle at a decoy of a wild animal placed by a licensed peace officer;
  • allow the use of crossbows when hunting deer, bear or turkey during all firearm seasons except the muzzleloader season;
  • establish a $3 sandhill crane license fee and a $2.50 light geese fee; and
  • allow the DNR to make midseason adjustments to fish possession and size limits to manage the fishery in Upper Red Lake, similar to existing authority for Lake Mille Lacs.

 


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